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The Economist on cowboy boots


Senior Member
May 9, 2008
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Came across this article while catching up on the Economist. Does anyone have any bespoke cowboy boots experience?

A certain swagger
America's most confident shoe?

FOR his 16th birthday, Blake Kobelan's father gave him a pair of cowboy boots from Texas Traditions, one of America's most renowned custom bootmakers. On a sunny December morning in Austin, after nearly four years on the waiting list, the time had come to make some styling decisions. Mr Kobelan discusses the matter with Carrlyn Miller, who runs the shop with her husband Lee. Ostrich and kangaroo, they think; black, with a white state of Texas on the front; flags on the pull-straps.

The office is stuffed with handmade boots created down the decades, some simply stitched, others worked with elaborate designs of wild flowers, birds, or barbed wire. In one corner stands the leather cupboard, stocked with exotic skins in a rainbow of colours. Mr Miller pulls a tobacco-coloured, alligator-shaped alligator skin and smoothes it out on the floor. He explains that the flanks are the most prized part of the beast's skin; the small plates there are less vulnerable to cracking.

The American West's distinctive version of riding boots is often thought to have originated in Kansas in the 1880s, when a Colorado-based cowboy asked a cobbler to make him a special pair of boots: narrow through the foot to slide easily through the stirrup, with a stacked heel to grip it. Whatever the provenance, the style spread quickly among cowboys, and soon beyond. Cowboy boots are now popular around the world.

"I have a theory that when America pulls out of a recession, it's a boom time for boots," says Jennifer June, who has written a book on the subject and runs an online forum for boot lovers. She reckons that cowboy boots project a certain amount of confidence and stability: despite the heel, the wearer could take off running after a kite or a dog at a moment's notice.

Custom boots preserve the tradition, but offer more room for personal expression. There are perhaps 250 custom bootmakers in the United States, and the waiting list for the most admired makers, like Mr Miller, can stretch for several years. It may take half an hour to measure a foot in a dozen dimensions, and a basic boot takes perhaps 40 hours of labour. Prices start at around $2,000 and rise steeply, depending on materials and styling. Converts say there is no substitute for the fit and craftsmanship.

Alas, some enthusiasts have not achieved the necessary means to hit that price point. The Millers offer a few tips for off-the-shelf customers. Avoid boots with padding inside, a sure sign of shoddy construction. And look for wooden pegs rather than nails in the soles: when wet, the wood expands and contracts with the leather. That way, this working boot works with you.

Harold falcon

Stylish Dinosaur
Dec 6, 2009
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Ostrich and kangaroo, they think; black, with a white state of Texas on the front; flags on the pull-straps.
Dear heavenly ostentatious nouveau riche garbage.


Stylish Dinosaur
Apr 1, 2008
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Cowboy boots are not "dress shoes."


Distinguished Member
Apr 14, 2006
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One of the bespoke makers is about 20 miles north of me. I have visited his shop and visited with him.
I did not get a pair of boots which started at about 2K and he strats with hand-made lasts.
Very interesting process and very beautiful workmanship. He also had a couple of custom saddles in the works. While it is easy to dismiss some of the more far -fetched commisions as trite/contemporary cowboy bling, the old school stuff, (which he still does and does well) is truly beautiful.

On a similar note - Last year I happened to pass through a convention of the nations best saddle makers and leather workers and the work was flat out amazing! $70,000 saddles, everything hand tooled, hand cast, custom fitted.

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